Expect the Unexpected

August 13, 2019

These unexpected findings highlight the importance of a home inspection

A professional home inspection is a critical step when buying a home. While most home inspections simply give the buyer more information about the property and uncover minor issues, others can reveal major issues with the home that can lead to the sale falling through. In this article, we’ll discuss the value of home inspections and two uncommon—but possible—scenarios where buyers avoided potential disaster.

What do home inspections actually uncover?

A vast majority of home inspections reveal mundane issues with the property that need to be fixed, but that probably won’t kill the sale. Every used home has some wear-and-tear, defects, or minor issues. As the buyer, you’ll want to know about these and maybe talk to the current owner about fixing them, but they probably won’t lead you to back out of the sale altogether.

According to data from the real estate website Trulia, only 3.9% of sales fell through in 2016. When you consider the wide number of unrelated reasons for a failed sale—a low appraisal, issues with the title or loan, problems with buyer financing, or just plain old cold feet on the part of the buyer—this means that only a small percentage of sales fell through because of an unwelcome surprise during the home inspection.

However, take even that small percentage and multiply it by the number of homes sold in the United States every year, and you’ll realize why a professional home inspection is so important. An inspection gives you peace of mind and information that you can use to make informed decisions before you close on the home.

Termite damage, but no knowledge of termites

In most states and cities here in the United States, homeowners are required to disclose to buyers whether or not the property has had termites in the past. Most homes—especially those in the Sun Belt—will get termites at some point, so this is rarely a dealbreaker for many buyers, especially if the damage was accounted for and the termite infestation was dealt with by a pest professional. For most home transactions, this is where the story ends.

However, there are rare circumstances where termite damage or even an active infestation is uncovered as part of a home inspection. In fact, this exact scenario is why most realtors recommend you schedule a termite inspection even if the homeowner has had to complete a disclosure form. 

Adding to the awkward situation, the current homeowner might not have known about the termites. Maybe the infestation is new. Maybe they weren’t vigilant in checking for termites—while some state laws regarding disclosure include language like “known or should have known,” every state plays by different rules. Or, if you remove the benefit of the doubt extended to the seller, it’s possible that they lied in the disclosure and just hoped that the buyer would skip a professional inspection.

Either way, unless the damage is incredibly severe, the unexpected discovery of termites still may not kill the sale. But, it could put the buyer in a position to negotiate for the treatment of the infestation or repair of the damage prior to closing. As the buyer, that’s a position you want to be in, as opposed to discovering problems after the key has been dropped into your hands.

Roofing and structural problems

Unless you’re buying a home that has been abandoned for some time, most single-family properties with the owner currently living on-site are probably okay structurally. After all, it’d be crazy for someone to live in a home that is unsafe. It’s the wiggle room in that word “probably” that you should be concerned about. The seller may be ignorant to structural damage or roof problems, which can lead to a situation where the phrase “buyer beware” comes into play.

Among home inspection findings that lead to sales falling through, roofing issues reign supreme. They are a major structural defect that can cost a lot of money to fix—a buyer might be okay replacing a few broken tiles or shingles here and there, but inheriting a roof replacement project is a far more costly scenario. Roof issues that lead to leaks inside the structure can also mean structural integrity issues, mold growth, and other problems. You’re probably starting to see the value of a home inspection by now.

As with termites, many municipalities require homeowners to disclose major structural or safety issues when selling. The issue here is often ignorance. Roofing problems that do not cause leaks inside the living space of the home may go unnoticed by the current owner. These scenarios are relatively rare, but they do happen.

The truly bizarre cases

Sometimes, a home inspection can uncover something truly bizarre and unexpected. Experienced home inspectors have their favorite stories from past jobs they’ve worked. Many times, it’s crazy DIY repairs and patches made by the prior homeowners, such as water pipes held together with duct tape or incredibly unsafe electrical work that—at any point in the twenty or so years since it was installed—could have led to the house burning down. Anything that a prior owner built themselves can be suspect. Veteran inspectors have seen it all, from handbuilt decks made by someone with a really loose concept of how gravity works to decade-old plastic buckets holding up roof support beams.

In other cases, inspectors have ventured into attics only to be greeted by families of raccoons or squirrels; the current owners seemingly never bothered to check the attic on a regular basis (or give much thought to what all those scratching and rustling sounds were at night). These cases can also take a turn for the morbid or outright disgusting. Home inspectors have found dead animals inside of homes, massive pest infestations, or even deceased pets buried beneath the basement. 

You probably won’t run into any of these weird scenarios during your home inspection. As previously mentioned, most inspections turn up more mundane—although equally important!—repairs that need to be made to the property. But, these home inspection nightmares do highlight the importance of having an inspection: you just never know.

Get a professional opinion

In both the termite and the roof scenarios outlined above, the average homebuyer and their realtor would not have noticed the issues during their walk-throughs. This just reinforces why a home inspection is so vital: a home purchase may be the single-largest investment you make in your lifetime. Don’t leave things to chance by skipping a professional inspection.

The helpful information in this guest blog is courtesy of Christine Sanders with Arizona’s Best Choice Pest & Termite Services. Thank you for sharing Christine!

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